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Elope! With Inspiration from Dolly Parton & Carl’s 1966 Spring Elopement Ceremony

Published Wednesday, Nov. 22nd, 2023

Photo: Dolly Parton & Carl Dean, from the article ' Dolly and Carl's 50th Wedding Anniversary' in The Front Porch, Copyright

According to the stories, the invitations for Dolly Parton and Carl Dean’s spring wedding were already in the mail when Fred Foster – the head of the Monument Records at the time – asked them to postpone the ceremony. 


“He was investing quite a bit of money in me to try and get me started in the business," Dolly told reporters at The Boot few years ago.


“He heard that I was engaged, and we had already sent out our wedding invitations, and so he called me in the office and said, ‘I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t get married for at least a year, so I can kind of make sure I can get a return on my investment, because I want you to be free to work and do whatever you need to do.’” (via The Boot)


But Dolly and Carl didn’t want to wait an extra year to get married, no matter what the stakes might be, so they did what any couple who are madly in love would do… 


They eloped! 


Dolly, Carl, and Dolly’s mother, Avie Lee Owens, hit the road, and headed down to Georgia for an almost-secret elopement ceremony – a tiny, low key gathering that would avoid any media attention, and the ire of the folks at Monument Records. 


“So, that weekend, me and Carl went to Ringgold, Georgia, and got married, so it wouldn't be in the Tennessee papers,” Dolly told reporters (via Country Living).


The couple were married in the company of only four other people: Dolly’s mom Avie Lee, the preacher and his wife, and a required witness. They returned home to Tennessee as newlyweds, although very few people knew it at the time. 


So romantic! 


To help you plan your own low key elopement ceremony, we’ve included a few ideas and examples from Dolly and Carl’s marriage day below. Choose your favorites, add your own details, and get inspired! 



Need a wedding officiant? Ask a friend or family member to get ordained online to marry you! Ordinations with American Marriage Ministries are recognized in every state (except VA) and are always free. 




Photo of a vintage Beetle with split window rear window and a large wedding wreath, with a license plate that reads 'Wedding', facing a dense forest

Photo: kkshepel / iStock

Hit the road and elope!

5 Creative Elopement Ideas Inspired by Dolly Parton & Carl Dean’s 1966 Ceremony



1. Retro Handmade Dress


Dolly’s simple white wedding dress was sewn by her mother, Avie Lee Owens. The dress had a classic 60s knee-length a-line skirt, a high-neck sleeveless bodice, and was accessorized with a short white veil, short white gloves, and white kitten heels.


(See a photo of Dolly Parton’s retro wedding dress here.)


To get the look, find a vintage 60s cocktail dress, shop retro-style summer gowns, or add your own modern touch with a stylish white jumpsuit. 


2. Wedding Capital of the South


We all know Vegas is the Wedding Capital of the World, but did you know that Ringgold, Georgia, is known as the 'Wedding Capital of the South'? 


In fact, over 500,000 couples have been married in the small city of 3,429 people. (via Local3News) Ringgold first became a popular wedding destination for servicemen in the 1940s, and its reputation has continued to grow since.


Dolly and Carl weren’t the only music couple to marry there, either; the city’s hosted two of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s weddings, Don Everly (of The Everly Brothers) and his first wife Mary Sue Ingraham’s wedding, Bob Harvey (of the 60s psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane) married an ex-wife there, and the list goes on! (via Local3News; Tumblr)


So hop in the car and head south to Ringgold, ‘The Wedding Capital of the South’! Or if Georgia’s not your style, head to Vegas, Key West, the San Juan Islands, or another popular elopement destination for a special ceremony.



Photo of downtown Ringgold, Georgia taken at night, via City of Ringgold website

Charming downtown Ringgold, Photo via


3. Keep it secret


Dolly and Carl’s love for each other is no secret – after all they’ve been married 56 years and counting. But the couple did keep their marriage quiet at first. 


You and your soon-to-be-spouse can enjoy the same kind of privacy with a secret ceremony, as long as you plan ahead. California offers ‘confidential’ marriage licenses, or you can keep things low key by inviting only one or two guests like Dolly and Carl did. 


For details on planning a secret elopement, click the links below: 




Photo of a small country building at sunrise or sunset, in a garden setting

Photo: Katie / Adobe Stock

Skip the courthouse and ask a friend or family member to get ordained to officiate your intimate elopement, anywhere you choose!


4. Plan a bigger, second wedding bash later


Dolly and Carl chose to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a lavish celebration – a sort of ‘second wedding’ to indulge in all the things they didn’t have at their elopement ceremony. But don’t worry, you don’t have to wait 50 years to have a second ceremony! 


Plan to renew your vows on your first or second anniversary, because two parties is better than one! Lots of couples choose to have a second wedding after they elope, sometimes called a 'sequel wedding.' The benefits to this approach are many: more time to save money for a lavish party down the road; all the perks of legal marriage without the wait; intimate ceremony for just close friends followed by a big reception for your entire community. 


Read more about Dolly and Carl's 50th anniversary vow renewal ceremony:




5. Skip the courthouse


You don’t have to get married at the courthouse to elope – you can get elope almost anywhere, as long as you have a qualified officiant… That’s exactly what Dolly and Carl did. 



Dolly told reporters at Country Living about her wedding day, “I said, 'I can't get married in a courthouse because I'll never feel married.' So we found a little Baptist church in town…”


If you want to elope, consider a favorite local park, community center, museum, cafe, bookstore, or church. You can ask a friend to get ordained online to marry you, or find a professional wedding officiant in the area to do the job. 



Read Next: 


How to Elope:

The Complete Elopement Checklist


A simple checklist to plan the perfect elopement, including when to apply for your marriage license, how to choose your wedding officiant and witnesses, how to create your guest list, and pick a venue. It’s always a good time to elope!



Stylized illustration close up of a couple with pinkies intertwined on their elopement day

Illustration: Jessica Levey



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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